“I didn’t come here to fight.”

Some part of Ishani thought this shouldn’t have to be said, but she knew just as well why it did, too. The moment she admitted where she’d come from, Starlin Rand had dropped into a combat stance, legs splayed apart, his good eye narrowed as he watched her every move. It was clear he automatically expected violence from her—as he probably should.

“Yeah? What’s a Sith come to see a Jedi for, then?” he demanded.

“I came here to thank you,” she replied without hesitation. “For trusting Arcturus and letting him go.”

Starlin’s brow furrowed. “Who?”

She blinked, grimacing with chagrin, then clarified, “You probably knew him as Thesh.”

His eyes widened. “Oh. Yeah. Thesh.” His gaze hardened again. “He went back to Korriban, didn’t he?”

Yes, although I really wish he hadn’t.”

He stared at her.

“Look, it’s a long story,” she added quickly. “Is there someplace where we can talk?”

“If all you want to do is talk…” Starlin walked out and closed the door behind him. “Y’know, you could’ve at least called in ahead and said you were coming instead of just showing up at my apartment. Makes a guy get territorial…”

Fifteen minutes later, they were sitting side by side in a Coruscanti bar.

“You go first,” Starlin said as the bartender approached them.

“Just water,” she said.

“You don’t drink?”

“I tried it once and didn’t like it.”

“Huh. Well, can’t fault you there.” He ordered something sweet, with barely any alcohol in it. “Anyway, you said you had a long story to tell me?”

She did her best to explain everything that had happened after Arcturus went missing.

“So you’re Thesh—I mean, Arcturus’ girlfriend?” He smirked. “Funny. He seemed like the lonely single virgin type to me.”

“Technically he was when you met him,” she muttered.

“You mean you went through all this stuff tryna find him, when you and him hadn’t even—” Her glare stopped him in his tracks, though he was still grinning. “Alright, alright. You must’ve really liked him, is all I’m sayin’.”

“When I found out what he did on Ossus, that was when I started to love him.” She crossed her arms over her chest, staring down at the table. “He stopped fighting in order to rescue the enemy’s children from the battlefield.”

“Hey, I was the one who suggested it,” Starlin said. “And we were supposed to go back to fighting afterwards. This dude named Thirdas talked Th—Arcturus out of it, and then the Sith decided to drop a starship on top of the Jedi Temple, so we had to get the hell out of there anyway. In all the chaos caused by your invasionary force, I wound up on Arcturus’ ship by accident.”

“I wasn’t at Ossus,” Ishani reminded him irritably. “Arc didn’t take you prisoner, even though it’s what he should’ve done. He even let you choose where you wanted to go.”

“Yeah.” Starlin sighed wearily. “He just seemed like a… scared kid, to be honest. I felt sorry for him, so I offered to let him stay with me and my parents. He seemed a lot happier then… But he still wound up leaving and going back to Korriban.” He stiffened. “What exactly do you want from me?”

“I don’t want anything from you. Like I said, I came here to say thank you.” She shrugged. “And maybe just to have someone to talk to. I can’t exactly say these things to the Sith.”

“Right.” He frowned. “Why are you even with them, anyway?”

“I don’t really want to be with them. Or at least, I don't want to be around the crazy bloodthirsty ones. Arcturus is the only thing keeping me there…” She trailed off.

Starlin looked aghast. “Don’t tell me you’re hoping to change him. Don’t tell me that’s the reason why you came to me.” He shook his head. “You wouldn’t believe how hard I tried to get him to walk away from the Sith. Granted, I’m not the best example of a Jedi… but no matter what I said or did, how nice I was to him or how much I tried to understand him, I couldn’t get him to change his mind. He wants to be a Sith, just like I want to be a Jedi.”

The bartender arrived with their drinks. Ishani held her head in her hands.

“Oh Force—don’t look like that, please,” Starlin said, his tone and demeanor softening. “All heartbroken and chit. Look, I didn’t say it was impossible for him to change, but you have to admit it seems pretty unlikely.”

“I don’t know what to do,” she whispered. “I don’t… I can’t stay with these people who say they want to be free, but all they care about is power. Sure, being powerful will set you free—by taking freedom away from everyone else!”

“Does Arcturus want power?” Starlin asked.

Yes.” The word came out somewhere between a snarl and a wail. “And I have been helping him get it. Because all I wanted was to make him happy.”

“Chit, girl.” Starlin whistled, then took a sip of his drink. “In a way, I guess you were right.”

She raised her head. “About what?”

“Trying to make him happy. It’s just that you and him want different things. He wants to become an evil dark lord, you want him to be a good man.”

"He doesn't want to be an evil dark lord. That's not him at all. He's just an alchemy student, not some warlord in the making." For a moment she seemed confused by her own words, as though she were realizing she may have made a mistake. Then she shook her head. “I’m not giving up on him.”

“Nobody is asking you to. Although I gotta admit, it probably isn’t a good idea to keep seeing him, given the Sith track record when it comes to hurting people they love. The Dark Side corrupts, you know.” He took another sip. “‘Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you and the one you love simply aren’t meant to be together. The trick is knowing when to fight for them, and when to part ways.’”

“Yeah…” she murmured, then raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t come up with that just now.”

“Nope! Famous quote from an obscure ex-Jedi.” He grinned. “Pretty good stuff though, you gotta admit.”